W.H. Steel was educated in Mathematics and Physics at the University of Melbourne. During the war, he began to work with the Australasian Wireless Association (AWA), then transferred to the CSIR/O National Standards Laboratory.
Steel undertook research on signalling lamps, sighting telescopes, testing telescopes and projectors, optical design, interferometric tests on glass and refractive index measurements.
After the war, Steel was one of the few scientists who remained in the field of optics. He continued to work at the CSIR/O and became an international expert in interferometry. He was President of the International Commission for Optics, 1972-75.
Steel retired from the CSIRO in 1985, and since then he has been an Honorary Professorial Fellow at Macquarie University.